Appetite, article Appetite for Design
Where (San Francisco) 2002
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RESTAURANT AMBIENCE: Trips Through Time and Place By Antoinette May

Applause! Applause! We've heard it for the chefs in grand and glorious detail. Many are icons, household names with cult followings. Their star status is deserved, yet where would those divas be without their sets?

Perhaps the stage, too, is a star, the setting equal to the performer. Sometimes, splendid as the food may be, the set even outshines the performer. And, sometimes they go hand in hand.

Consider Farallon, designer Pat Kuleto's underwater fantasy--a perfect backdrop for Mark Franz's sophisticated coastal cuisine. Kuleto started with an abandoned Elks Club. All that endures from that Twenties fun house is the pool's faux mosaic ceiling, yet that domed Turkish bath look is the punch line to Kuleto's whole Neptunian extravaganza.

Suspend belief, submerge yourself. Step under a scalloped awning into the bar where kelp-twined pillars glow from within and luminous jellyfish with trailing tentacles drift from above.

Ascend a staircase embedded with thousands of indigo marbles. Slowly become aware of the sea creatures inhabiting the dining room. You'll see nautilus table lamps, giant sea urchin shell

chandeliers; and, gleaming in the distance, a copper kitchen range covered with fish scales. Jules Vern couldn't have envisioned it better.

Interior designer Cheryl Rowley is a visionary too, albeit more subtle. Rowley dreamed of the fabled Silk Road and went on to recreate its ambience for the equally fabled Silks Restaurant, one of San Francisco's hidden treasures.

It was Rowley's idea to incorporate European-style carpeting, hand painted silk chandeliers, artwork, artifacts and rich textures in tones of cinnamon, persimmon and nutmeg as a stunning backdrop for Chris Floyd's equally fabulous culinary creations. "The décor elements combine Southern European and Asian cultures," she explains. "The elegant feel of the room is meant to inspire the senses." And, indeed, it does.

This is a place for grand moments and high adventures, an exquisite restaurant where the service is smooth as the name and where the best martinis in town are only the beginning.

What happens when a gifted designer and a great chef join romantic forces? Something sensational like Fleur de Lys, the love child of Chantel and Hubert Keller. Chantel has taken 800 yards of custom-printed fabric in sumptuous tones of pomegranate, saffron and parsley and fashioned

them into a kind of sultan's valentine. Her opulent tent acts as a baffle keeping sounds muted while a wall of mirrors illuminates the beautiful people enjoying Hubert's legendary cuisine. It's a marvelous place to people watch. Look who's proposing now!

The words, Ana Mandara, mean "beautiful refuge" and that's exactly what designer Aline Ho has created. Slip into the exquisite Vietnamese restaurant and you've entered a masterwork. Every seat is a good one with a new and different perspective. A combination of level changes, subtle textures and warm lighting results in an intimate atmosphere that softens the inevitable noise of a popular restaurant.

Ho's romantic creation, achieved by intricate carvings, antiques, fountains, and tropical foliage, is evocative of colonial Vietnam--a perfect foil for executive chef Khai Duong's modern Vietenamese cuisine. Ho's goal was to show her "country's deep cultural heritage and elegant traditional style." With the creation of Ana Mandara, arguably the most uniquely beautiful Vietnamese restaurant in the world, she's surely achieved it.

Once in awhile you find an incredible restaurant that catches the mood of an incredible city. Moose's does it for San Francisco. You get a buzz the minute you walk in, a tribute not only to chef Jason Miller but designer Shirley Ozumi Eden who's deftly done her thing

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by allowing him to do his in grand and glamorous style.

Eden's light toned, cheery ambience provides the perfect backdrop for the perennial party that goes on at Ed and Mary Etta Moose's place. Swagged arches separate the lively bar from the dining room. Mirrors reflect the movers and shakers not only of the city, but the world. The place is wildly popular and for good reason. It's all about great food, great jazz and great company.

Shanghai 1930 is a time trip, an opportunity to relive the sultry, exotic lifestyle of pre-war, pre-communist China. Designer Peter Van Dyne has furnished the softly luminous dining room in imperial yellow tones laced with gold and accented by art deco treasures. What better place for master chef Jason Xu to perform his oriental magic.

Owner George Chen's Shanghai rambles uncovered a series of vintage déco bars. "I wanted to recreate their feeling," he says.

Chen's collaboration with Van Dyne, just may have resulted in the most dazzling bar in the world, a backlit sheet of luminescent aquamarine against which some hundred bottles are silhouetted. The blue grotto effect is highly sensual, the perfect setting for dancing, listening to superb jazz artists--and possibly falling in love.

Caution: Shanghai 1930 could be dangerous.

FARALLON-450 Post St.; 415/956-6969

SILKS-222 Sansome St.; 415/896-2020

FLEUR DE LYS-777 Sutter St.; 415/673-3779

ANA MANDARA-891 Beach St.; 415/771-6800

MOOSE'S-1652 Stockton St.; 415/989-7800

SHANGHAI 1930-133 Steuart St.; 415/896-5600

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Copyright © 2002-2010 Antoinette May